To be rather than to seem.

On July 4, 1976 as one of the original 13 colonies who fought for independence, NC celebrated the bicentennial of the THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.[1]

A few days later on July 7, 1976, the Sir Walter Lodge 411 Independent Order of Odd Fellows sold 83.79 acres to the City of Raleigh, City of Durham, Wake County and Durham County for the purpose of ensuring that incompatible uses would not be built near the planned new perpendicular runway.

RDU Aiport Authority stated in a federal document in December 1976: “A recreation area under the jurisdiction of the Odd Fellows Club of Raleigh is located adjacent to the proposed project site, south of Umstead State Park and west of Crabtree Creek. The area contains a picnic shelter and a small lake, and is used for monthly club activities. This recreation facility will not be adversely affected by airport expansion.

In 1976 a commemorative coin was issued by the State of North Carolina with the following depicted on the coin:

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION BICENTENNIAL 1976/ THE GREAT SEAL OF THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA/ ESSE QUAM VIDERI/ MAY 20, 1775……TO BE. RATHER THAN TO SEEM — Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, woman operating textile machine, colonial soldier saluting Wright Brothers’ plane, two Indians, a mountain range, and a slave holding a tobacco leaf — the things that have made North Carolina great.

The Women, Native Americans and Blacks in North Carolina do make it great. Yet systemic racism, sexism, and injustice is choking our ability to fully participate in our democracy. We need immediate reforms on many fronts to make America more just, including universal health care, a living wage, sick leave, affordable housing, and a green new deal that powers our economy with clean energy and sustainable development. Our voices are being silenced while the voices of multi-national, generational, and extractive industries (such as mining companies) grow stronger. An example of the control that extractive and generational companies have over the average individual exists right here in North Carolina — the controversy regarding the Odd Fellows land.

The unjust disposal of the Odd Fellows Tract by RDU Airport Board Members has led to outrage and outcry by all the users of the trails through Umstead State Park. Why did they lease the Odd Fellows Tract to a private company; placing an industrial quarry next to Umstead State Park, single family homes dependent on well water, and the East Coast Greenway? Isn’t this against every current Federal and North Carolina Environmental and Zoning Policy?

What led to the EXTRORDINARY circumstances of this decision that will irreversibly harm critical habitat, wildlands, the NC Bikeway/East Coast Greenway, an ecologically impaired Crabtree Creek that feeds into the Neuse River, and our State Park — Umstead State Park?

With only two days notice to the public, and no public hearing, on March 1, 2019, RDU executed an Option and Lease Agreement with Wake Stone for a proposed quarry. The public who attended were greeted by guard dogs, blocked and delayed from entering, backpacks searched, relegated to the back of the room by staff who took the front row seats, and puzzled about the presence of heavy RDU Airport security. The RDUAA Board meeting lasted 4 minutes and 17 seconds.

Where was the FAA review of this decision? Isn’t the long term lease to a quarry operator equivalent to a sale? Wasn’t this land purchased for a public purpose with federal grant money? Aren’t land uses that obscure visibility by creating dust plumes from quarry blasting considered hazardous to flight? There is an existing perpendicular runway that is used by smaller planes, that fly low to the ground, that will get close to the new quarry pit, and primarily fly during the day, when the new quarry blasts will occur. The 18.1 mile long security fence and quarry project are not listed on the airport layout plan as projects, even though removing the overburden from the Odd Fellows Tract will be the source of fill for the new runway, and the security fence will protect the quarry, logging, and overburden removal operations.

Where was the coordination with all levels of government, affected private and/or governmental groups, agencies, commissions, etc., to obtain their input on the plans for the quarry? RDU Airport Authority invited these representatives (see link) to be on their Vision2040 Master Plan Committee. Of those that served on the committee, when did they become aware of the proposed quarry development and lease of public land for a private quarry?

What is more important to recognize is who was NOT invited to participate. I’ve developed a list of folks that may have helped avoid this current conflict and helped provide insight from the local community:

Umstead State Park Rangers, North Carolina State Parks, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, DEQ Division of Water Resources, DEQ Division of Air Quality, Nearby residents who have contacted the airport about noise issues, Boy Scout Troop Leaders who camp at the Odd Fellows Tract, TORC Board Members (who develop and maintain off-road trails on Lake Crabtree), Bike Walk NC, East Coast Greenway Representative, NC-DOT Bikeway Representative, Town of Cary, Parks and Recreation, Town of Morrisville, Parks and Recreation, City of Raleigh, Parks and Recreation, Wake County, Parks and Recreation, Umstead Coalition Board Members, Lake Crabtree County Park Staff and/or volunteers.

All of this agony and despair was promulgated in the name of freedom! Under the FAA Re-authorization Act of 2018, airports were given new freedom to make money off of land no longer required for aeronautical use. The new law stated that the Federal Aviation Administration will review and approve or disapprove only by asking the questions: Does the plan materially impact the safe and efficient operation of aircraft at, to, or from the airport? Adversely affect the safety of people or property on the ground adjacent to the airport as a result of aircraft operations? Adversely affect the value of prior Federal investments to a significant extent?

Under the new 2018 rule, projects can’t be reviewed by FAA if the airport layout plan creates physical hazards, risks and disruption to the people and communities who live, work and play adjacent to the airport. It only matters if “aircraft operations affect the safety of people”. The RDU Development of the quarry is cited as an example of the freedom provided to airports with this new law (see this presentation). [3]

The freedom to lease public land for a quarry, and to create real harms now, with unknowable environmental damages (no environmental assessment required) and to risk future liabilities for the FAA and State and local Governments of North Carolina seems irresponsible and reckless. Destroying land and harming people should not be our legacy moving forward.

Doesn’t this plan violate the FAA grant assurances such as a compatible land use plan [4], and disposal of land [5]? Wasn’t the land purchased by the RDU Airport for the perpendicular runway (including the Odd Fellows Tract) reimbursed by the FAA?

From the FAA policy guidance on disposal of land: “As communities continue to grow, areas that once were rural in nature can quickly become urbanized. A result of “urban sprawl” is the loss of open space and the resulting loss of airports and/or their utility. Many communities have relied upon their airports as an economic engine. Proximity of industrial parks and recreational areas has proven not only to be compatible, but to be mutually beneficial as well. Some communities have used the resources of an airport to contribute to the quality of life for the local community”

North Carolina General Statute§ 63–53 states specific powers of municipalities operating airports: To lease such airports or other air navigation facilities, or real property acquired or set apart for airport purposes, to private parties,.(can be done)…
provided that in each case in so doing the public is not deprived of its rightful, equal, and uniform use thereof.

So this Fourth of July, trail users lament the freedom afforded to the airport authority to create a legacy of destruction, with needless risk and harm imposed on our community. The only opportunity to speak out that has been provided, is the NC-DEQ Mining Commission Hearing. No notice or signs marking the property were provided to alert the public about the meeting. The rules and policies are stacked against us, and still we rise.

More than 570 people attended the virtual public hearing on June 23 for the Wake Stone Corporation mining permit application for RDU Quarry. Due to the large number of registered speakers who did not get to speak during the allotted four hours, NC DEQ’s Division of Energy, Mining and Land Resources (DEMLR) scheduled a continuation of the hearing for July 7 at 9 a.m. EDT.

Listen to a recording of the public comments made so far:

Authority without checks and balances is unconstitutional. History has its eyes on us, make your comments now. Don’t throw away your shot.

For more information:

Stories topics may include: Air Quality Modeling and Monitoring, Sustainability, Data Analysis, and Clean Energy Policy.

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